EAST PROVIDENCE — For the second time to date in the 2012 election cycle, the local League of Women Voters chapter hosted a forum/debate for candidates seeking office in East Providence, this edition featuring politicians from State Representative District 63 as well as those from City Council Wards 1 and 2 along with School Committee At-Large and Ward 2.
The forum took place Monday night, Oct. 15, in front of a rather significant gathering of about 100 people at what was a steamy Cape Verdean Progressive Club on Grosvenor Avenue.
The deliberations started off in a somewhat energetic way with the forum between Rep. District 63 competitors Katherine Kazarian, the endorsed Democratic winner of the Sept. 11 primary, and David Sullivan, an Independent.
Mr. Sullivan wasted little time attempting to peg his 20-something-year-old opponent as an unprepared insider, citing the support she’s received from House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, city Democratic power brokers Rep. Helio Melo and Sen. Daniel DaPonte as well as Ms. Kazarian’s mother’s employment at the State House.
“I have life and business experience my opponent does not,” Mr. Sullivan said in his opening remarks. “I’m not supported by the current regime. I don’t have a member of my family working at the State House. I’m not endorsed by any party. I truly am an independent voice.”
Ms. Kazarian, looking more confident and secure in her knowledge of the issues in comparison to her primary debate six weeks ago, and Mr. Sullivan had the most engaging of the early debates.
The sharpest exchange between the candidates came when asked about improving the state’s economy. Ms. Kazarian said she would like to reinstate the Historic Tax Credit to spur jobs and preserve history. Mr. Sullivan said he would like to significantly cut the sales tax rate or do away with it entirely like New Hampshire.
Ms. Kazarian countered that New Hampshire’s property tax rates were much higher than Rhode Island’s and questioned where Mr. Sullivan would make up the revenue lost. Mr. Sullivan answered by saying even with all of the taxes in the state, it was still projected to run a $100 million deficit this fiscal year and there was a need to do things differently. He also brought up the need for immigration reform as a way of helping to reduce expenditures.
Both candidates agreed the state made a grave mistake in granting 38 Studios a $75 million loan. Mr. Sullivan said he would like the Economic Development Commission to be abolished. Ms. Kazarian said she wasn’t sure if that was necessary, but that she would not support one company getting such a large taxpayer-backed subsidy in the future.
The candidates, as expected, disagreed on social issues. Ms. Kazarian favored same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose. Mr. Sullivan, whose views are somewhat in line with the “Tea Party” faction of the Republican Party, was for civil unions but against “redefining” marriage. He also said he was pro-life. The two also disagreed on Voter ID laws, Mr. Sullivan in favor and Ms. Kazarian against.
Mr. Sullivan, intentionally or not, referred to Ms. Kazarian as “Katie” a number of times in his closing remarks, seemingly attempting to paint her with the same brush as the highly-ineffective and likewise-inexperienced outgoing Ward 1 City Councilor Katie Kleyla. Ms. Kazarian, who gave her closing statement first, seemed taken aback a bit with the use of the nickname, but did not respond.
From there, events got a bit bogged down. Some of the questions were vague and presented imprecisely. And, of course, the specter of the all-powerful Budget Commission, which has rendered both the City Council and School Committee impotent and insignificant, hung over their forums that followed.
Council debates between Ward 1 candidates James Briden and Edward Lynch and Ward 2 candidates Helder Cunha and Bruce Rogers followed with little flare, though there was some substance to each.
Mr. Briden appeared more comfortable with the format of his debate against Mr. Lynch, whose answers were short and who often referred to his prepared text.
Key to Mr. Briden’s presentation was the need for the city to follow through on a five-year fiscal plan, to “reinvent” itself with fresh ideas and to be ready for an improved economy, both locally and nationally, in the coming years.
Mr. Lynch said his experience at the state level where he forged agreements between the two parties and created partnerships with business were the reasons why he should be elected.
The tenor of the Ward 1 debate was cordial. That of the Ward 2 forum was a bit more confrontational, at least on Mr. Cunha’s part, though many of his attempts to jab Mr. Rogers fell flat.
As the recognized leader of what has been a divided and ineffective 3-2 Council, Mr. Rogers implored newcomers to the body to make a “pledge” to work together and represent the city as “one group.” Mr. Cunha agreed with that notion and said the Council should “utilize people’s individual talents.”
Mr. Cunha later implied Mr. Rogers was letting supporters and friends off the hook in terms of paying their taxes, a not-so-subtle shot at Rogers’ ally and Ward 3 Councilman Thomas Rose. The Budget Commission, however, is looking into the matter with a Homestead audit and other measures, facts Mr. Rogers reiterated Monday.
When asked if the elimination of the Homestead Act for homeowners was actually a tax increase, Mr. Cunha said simply it was. Mr. Rogers agreed, but did make an unsubstantiated claim he alone, as a member of the state-appointed Commission, was the reason why the Homestead was only being eliminated incrementally at a rate of 1 percent per year for 15 years.
Mr. Cunha mistakenly answered a question about what “Special Interests” he had by saying he had a keen interest in his time spent working with Wall Street earlier in his business career.
The query was intended as an attempt to tell the audience what interest groups supported the candidate. Mr. Rogers, in his closing remarks, referenced Mr. Cunha’s misstatement, painting him as the candidate of the established leadership in the city.
It should be noted candidates for both the Ward 1 School Committee and At-Large City Council contests were invited to participate Tuesday in what was deemed by the League as the East Providence “North” section forum, though only two attended.
Ward 1 School Committee Betty J. DeCrescenzo was there, but her opponent, Elizabeth Clupny, a nurse, said she was working and unable to participate. At-Large Council candidate Steven Santos was also on hand Tuesday. However, his opponent, Tracy Capobianco, continued a troubling trend of not attending. As she hasn’t participated in The Post’s recent campaign coverage, Mrs. Capobianco told the League she would not be able to attend either Monday’s event or that scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 17, at the Riverside Congregational Church due to prior commitments.
Invitees for Wednesday’s “South” section forum include: State Representative for District 63: Katherine Kazarian (D) and David Sullivan – (I); State Representative for District 65: Gregg Amore (D) and Joseph Botelho (I); State Representative for District 66: Manfred Diel, Jr.(R), Joy Hearn (D), and Eugene Saveory (I); City Council from Ward 3: Thomas Rose Jr. and Candace Seel; City Council At-Large: Tracy Capobianco and Steven Santos; and School Committee At-Large: Joel Monteiro and Ronald Warr, Jr. The event begins at 6 p.m.